The Evolution of Event Marketing in the Social Media Age

I started my first business in 2003 at 16 years old.

My co-founder and I worked as a DJ/MC team for backyard parties, Sweet 16s and school dances.

The term “social media” was barely in the public consciousness. MySpace had just launched that year and Facebook was still a Harvard dorm room pipe dream. Promoting an event was all about in-person word-of-mouth, and maybe a printed flyer at your local coffee shop. Digital marketing as we know it today simply did not exist.

As I gained experience in the entertainment and events industry over the next decade, my company moved into the B2B space. We began taking on corporate clients and helping them produce conferences, seminars, athletic events and launch parties.

By this point (the early 2010s), personal social media use was ubiquitous among people my age and younger. Businesses were just beginning to realize its potential as a powerful, low-cost marketing tool, especially for driving event attendance.

The rise of social media event marketing

In 2020, a corporate event without a digital marketing plan doesn’t get attended. Sure, you’ll get some sign-ups by making a few phone calls and sending out personal invitations via text, email or snail mail. But if you want to fill your seats and sell out your tickets, you need to promote the event across your brand’s digital channels, especially social media.

Let’s look at how we got here:

2000 – 2005

Social media is in its infancy. Evite, which launched in 1998, allows people to send digital event invitations to each other. Sites like Classmates, Six Degrees, Friendster and MySpace are beginning to connect individuals from across the internet.

2005 – 2010

Most of today’s top-used platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, had launched and are amassing a steady user base. Facebook introduces “Brand Pages” in 2007, encouraging businesses to connect with their customers, and the platform’s “Events” feature is gaining popularity. In 2010, Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group predicts that companies that didn’t get on the social media bandwagon “within three to five years” would not survive.

2010 – 2015

The introduction of smartphones and mobile apps encourages increased use of social media among consumers on-the-go. Social media is no longer optional for businesses. Advertising options are now readily available and in use on all major social media platforms, which allows businesses to create wide-reaching ads about their events.

2015 – 2020

Disappearing “Stories” and video marketing explode, especially on visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Digital video ad spend increases over 50% from 2016 to 2018, and continues to grow today. Engaging, branded video content and consistent updates (via Stories) is now the key to social media marketing success, especially for corporate events.

infographic - the evolution of social media event marketing

Event marketing success, today and tomorrow

Ultimately, the basics of producing an incredible branded event haven’t changed a whole lot. You still need an interesting and compelling theme, engaging presentations/activities, a great location and layout, and a well-organized process for inviting, engaging and following up with your attendees. Most importantly, you still need to do something that will encourage word-of-mouth buzz among the audience you’re targeting.

However, the technology and marketing strategies involved in promoting an event look completely different than they did when I started in the events industry. Here are a few modern event marketing tactics that can help you drive attendance and engagement:

1. A social media promotion strategy.

Have a plan to promote your event heavily on social media in the days, weeks and months leading up to it. Feed posts quickly get buried in your followers’ feeds, so it’s OK (and recommended) to talk about your event frequently on your channels.

Tag any speakers and vendors who are involved, and make sure to highlight any activities or panels that would be of particular interest to your target attendees. You can even create a unique branded hashtag so people can see all posts related to your event. You’ll also want to run a few paid ads on social media to expand your reach.

2. A complementary content marketing plan.

Think beyond just social media posts and create complementary email newsletters, blog posts, whitepapers, videos and other digital marketing assets to distribute before the event. You can even use these assets as part of your social media plan (they’re great to share as valuable, educational content for your followers).

3. Unique, on-site experiential activations.

Virtual reality experiences, projection mapping displays, living wall photo spots and other unique on-site activations can really take your event to the next level and make it memorable for attendees. Don’t do something “gimmicky” for the sake of it, but if there’s a legitimate opportunity to provide a fun, branded experience, it’s worth the investment.

4. Live professional photo, video and social media coverage.

Event marketing doesn’t stop when the registration desk opens. By hiring a professional media team, you can create valuable, high-quality content to showcase your event while it’s happening and after it’s over.

Professional photo and video coverage can capture your event and give you plenty of future website, blog and social content. Real-time social media coverage and livestreaming gives you the opportunity to engage with people who couldn’t attend in person, but are still interested in what’s happening. You can also collect user-generated content from attendees who tag your brand and use your hashtag throughout the event.

Bring your corporate event to life

As someone with nearly two decades of industry experience, my clients and partners trust me to deliver outstanding entertainment, production and media services for their events. I’m always looking for opportunities to help forward-thinking businesses expand their reach through a well-executed event.

Whether you need equipment rentals, a marketing strategy or end-to-end planning and production, I’m listening. Let’s chat about how we can make things happen.